Shiny Happy People Holding Tablets
July 24, 2012 Leave a comment
OT: Exodus 34; Psalms 24-25
God tells Moses to make two new stone tablets like the ones that he smashed on the ground in a puerile rage a couple of chapters ago, and promises to write on them again in his own special divine handwriting. After that, Moses is to come up to the top of Mount Sinai, alone. And God means really alone. In fact, Moses is responsible for ensuring that not a single person is anywhere on the entire mountain. There can’t even be livestock grazing at the base of the mountain. But Moses does what God says because he’s totally whipped.
When he gets to the summit, God comes down and “proclaims the name, ‘The LORD’” (5). I’m curious what the Hebrew is here. I think one of the Jewish names for God, “Hashem,” literally just means “the name,” and another, “Adonai,” means “the lord.” So I’m guessing the Hebrew here says that God come down and proclaims Hashem, “Adonai.” But that’s weird (if it’s even correct) because, of course, Adonai isn’t supposed to be God’s name – it’s Yahweh, isn’t it? It’s clear that whatever is going on here, names – and especially The Name – are important. God’s name is so important, in fact, that observant Jews don’t even like to have the word “God” written in full on anything that might be destroyed; they write “G-d” instead. Some even use this elision in emails, even though we all know those can’t really be destroyed because the internet never forgets. But I guess there’s the off-chance someone might print it out and then throw it away? When I visited temple with my Jewish friends as a child, I remember them all rushing to kiss the laminated prayer sheets whenever they accidentally fell on the ground. And that’s just for things that say “God,” which is more of a title than a name, kind of like “the Lord.” I can’t really wrap my head around why God’s name is so important – and, if it’s so important, why it can’t be used frequently. Why do we call call him God or the Lord so much more often than we call him Yahweh if his name is such a big deal? Is his name reserved for special occasions in order to make it more special? Like a dress you only wear once? Speaking of which, I am constantly trying to find an excuse to wear my prom dress again, because I really object in principle to the idea of a dress you only wear once. So if you plan on throwing a party or a brunch or a 30 Rock viewing party where the dress code encompasses floor-length full-skirted strapless yellow polka dot ballgowns, hit me up.
After proclaiming his name (or not), God “passes in front of” Moses (which, as Eli pointed out in a comment on my last post, could mean any number of things), then recites a little laudatory poem about himself. Maybe God is “full of great loyalty and faithfulness” (7), but can he be a shark?
I don’t think so. But Moses is impressed anyway, and grovels before God and begs him to come along on the trip to Israel, despite the fact that he has already agreed like twice to do exactly that.
God decides to restore his covenant with Israel, which I think was broken when they all wandered off to worship a metal cow. He promises that “I will do an awesome thing with you,” which just makes me feel vaguely dirty. He reminds Moses that he’s going to annihilate a handful of other tribes for no stated reason, and says the Israelites will have to destroy their altars and their pillars and their “sacred poles” (13). He also warns that they must not “prostitute themselves” to the other tribes’ gods, or let their children intermarry for fear that they might do the same.
He’s got some other rules, too. Don’t make any more scrap metal deities. Remember to observe Passover. All the firstborn males belong to God, including both livestock and humans; they have to be ransomed. (God is half kidnapper and half small-child-calling-dibs-on-everything-before-anybody-else-can-claim-it.) Nobody should show up for a chat with God without bringing a present. Everyone should work six days a week and rest on the seventh. All the Israelite men must “appear three times a year before the LORD God” (23) – does that mean they only have to go to temple once every four months? Or do they go to the temple every week on the Sabbath, like people do now, and make some other kind of special “appearance” before God three times a year? God also lists some other mandatory holidays and some more rules about sacrifices.
And, finally, he delivers the rather alarming command, “Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (26). Was that a common practice back in Biblical times? Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions here, but wouldn’t it be difficult to even amass enough milk to boil a whole goat in, even a small one? More relevantly, I think this command is the source of the kosher rules about not eating meat and dairy at the same time, even though, if you will recall, Abraham served God’s own angels a meal that included meat and butter.
God tells Moses to transcribe “the ten words” of the covenant on the tablets (28). I’m not sure what the ten words are. I mean, I always thought the thing Moses brought down on the tablets was the ten commandments, but there’s no way each one can be expressed in one word. And I’m sure all the commands just given above can’t be condensed into ten words either. Does “word” mean something counter-intuitive here?
After not eating or drinking at all for forty days and forty nights, Moses is long since dead of dehydration and starvation. Just kidding, this is the Bible! Instead of him dying, his face just became unusually shiny. So shiny, in fact, that when he came down from Mount Sinai, all his friends were so weirded out by his shiny, shiny face that he started wearing a veil to keep it under control. Moses told them everything that had happened on the mountain. And from then on, he took the veil off whenever he needed to chat with God, and put it back on when he came back to the tribe looking all shiny-faced and creepy.
Everything in the world belongs to God because he made it all. Who can go to God’s house and hang out with him? Only someone clean and pure and honest. Those people are blessed. That’s the way it works for “the generation that seeks him” (6). Giant ancient doors, open to let God in, who is powerful and glorious!
[I wonder why the psalmist only refers to one generation of God-seekers?]
God, I trust you with my life. Don’t screw me over! Instead, shame the traitors. Teach me your ways and truth because you are my savior. Remember your eternal compassion and forget my past crimes. Try to focus on my good parts. God is good. He guides the weak and the sinners to justice. Things are great for people who obey him. God, to keep up your own reputation as a good dude, forgive my mistakes! God will guide those who honor him, and they will live well, and their descendants will be rich. God takes care of his peeps. He’s my homie and he’s got my back. God, I’m lonely and unhappy so pity me. Shit keeps getting realer, so forgive me and fix everything! Look how many people want to fuck with me! Save me because I believe in you! And “save Israel from all its troubles” (22)!
God gets a handful of animal welfare points for attempting to prevent cruelty to baby goats…
…but he loses them for continuing to blather about animal sacrifice. And he specifies that if you cannot ransom a firstborn male donkey, you must break its neck. Horrific.